Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) characterized by hyperglycemia during pregnancy is a risk factor for various maternal and fetal complications. The key pathophysiological mechanisms underlying its development have not been elucidated, largely due to the lack of a model that accurately simulates the major clinical and pathological features of human GDM. In this review, we discuss the refined criteria for an ideal animal model of GDM, focusing on the key clinical and pathophysiological characteristics of human GDM. We provide a comprehensive overview of different models and currently used species for GDM research. In general, insulin insufficiency consequent to pancreatic β-cell death represents the current leading strategy to mimic human GDM-like hyperglycemia in animals. Nonetheless, these models have a limited capacity to mimic the natural history of GDM, the marked alteration in circulating estrogen/ progestogen, obesity and its related metabolic complications. We discuss emerging evidence of the increased susceptibility to GDM in rodents and large animals with genetic modifications in pregnancy-related hormones. An appraisal of current GDM models suggests that a combination strategy involving dietary stress, pregnancy-related hormones, insulin resistance and metabolic disorders might enable the development of better GDM models and expedite the translation of basic research findings to GDM treatment.
Keywords: Animal model; Glucose metabolism; Hyperglycemia; Insulin resistance; Pregnancy complication.